Count Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano among those who were somewhat skeptical about playing a pair of NBA regular season contests outside the game’s usual confines.
Yet he came away impressed with the end result, noting the electric energy that encompassed the international crowd, punctuated by a triple-overtime game that expressed no interest in ending to board a five-hour time-change flight back across the Atlantic.
Triano had expressed doubts about the required pond-hopping just days before, only to come away marveling at the fan response, saying one could “feel the energy in the building.”
The electricity was palpable and contagious, quickly becoming a theme among those who participated in the actual activities on the foreign floor.
“Hats off to the NBA… This is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of … If you look at this crowd, the last two nights, I didn’t see an empty seat in the building.” -Nets head coach Avery Johnson
Raptors star forward Andrea Bargnani called the crowd “unbelievable,” going on to say, “It’s great the Olympics are going to be here.”
Recent tradee Deron Williams almost flew home before the first showdown with wrist injuries that have nagged him for a number of years now. He seems happy to have stayed after the fact, also noting the underlying themes of how the fans responded and the upcoming 2012 Olympics to be held in London.
“It’s been brought up a lot this weekend.”
“I look forward to playing the Games here to try and get my second gold medal, and represent my country.
“This is a great place to have the Olympics. This is a great facility, and it should bring a lot of energy.”
There’s some concern that a British National team won’t receive an auto-bid to the basketball portion of the Summer Games, an unprecedented happening for a host. Hopefully, the success of this event at The O2 Arena will help sway any committee that plays a part in the decision-making of this process.
Who cares if they get ousted in the early rounds? They deserve to be there, as proven by the Nets and Raptors, two teams many consider an odd couple for promotional purposes.
Many fans of the game expressed their doubts in the choosing of these two cellar-dwellers to represent the NBA, calling the games “garbage,” if they could be bothered to weigh in at all.
They couldn’t be more wrong about the results.
Somewhere around 37,000 raucous fans witnessed 492 points and what amounted to essentially 2 1/3 games of energized excitement.
The UK’s Brendan Gallagher of The Telegraph humorously noted that Saturday’s crowd “was much more partisan and beery than Friday’s which rushed to the Greenwich peninsula straight from work.”
Right-hand man of David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, also injected a dose of comedy into the games when NBA TV’s Matt Winer inquired about the exchange rate and his allowed per diem, to which Silver responded with a sly smile, “I blew the per diem at breakfast.”
After the “experiment” Silver would go on to say that “What stood out for me was how much it felt like a regular season game in the States,” he said. “It feels like I’m in the [LA arena] Staples Centre with very educated fans,” maybe not so surprising when you learn that the same agency that owns and operates The O2 Arena also owns and operates the STAPLES Center.
While we’re on the topic of educated foreign NBA fans I’d like you all to take a moment to throw some support Mark Deeks’ way.
Legit Brit Deeks runs one of the best NBA websites on the internet, specializing in the financial ramifications of each and every NBA team, updated on a regular basis. Please keep this man in business by visiting ShamSports.com. We need his expertise to remain accessible.
Deeks almost didn’t go to the games, but came away with a buzz once the second evening’s showdown went to overtime, sending out the thrill of the moment via his Twitter feed.
Sure, it was the Nets and Raptors. But this was by design.
Silver would go on to say “One of the ways we assess the appetite is by staging regular season games and seeing whether fans have the interest in paying the prices we charge and whether they come out in numbers and buy merchandise. I referred to this earlier as an experiment and the results are in – it has been incredibly successful.”
If two of the worst teams in the league can create such success in an international arena, just imagine what a circus the Celtics, Lakers, or Heat would be.
However, neither the Nets nor Raptors were chosen by accident, let me assure you. It was a calculated move. Playing with a roster full of international flavor, London’s diverse cultural population turned out in force for the games, giving the tilt of the fans in Toronto’s favor.
But they didn’t just come from inside the empirical island. Fans also flocked to the games from all over Europe.
NBA.com’s Sekou Smith summed it nicely in this piece.
“Fans from all over the continent found their way here for the weekend. I know this because I had the pleasure of shaking hands and taking pictures with many of them before, during and after both games. They came from all over. Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, just to name a few, were all represented. There were men, women and children. Fans of the teams specifically but mostly fans of the NBA game. They wanted to be a part of the experience.”
Visionaries from all walks of the NBA combined their efforts to make this magical event happen, not the least of which was Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, one of the biggest reasons we were able to share what we take for granted in the United States, going to see showdowns that count toward the end result in person.
Prokhorov saw an opportunity to expand horizons and at the same time give the gift of the thrill of the game to fans and fanatics alike.
“I share the NBA vision that globalization is the next step for the growth of the league. So these games in London, it’s a great testimony to show how the sport is going global. We have a U.S. team with a Russian owner, with a French, Dutch and Slovenian player facing the Canadian team with players from Brazil, Spain, Italy and some other countries, and the games are in London.”
I’m with Sekou when he says of this obvious smashing success, “Let’s do this again!”
Many questions about the viability of international NBA action were answered over the weekend and it would be wise to heed Deeks’ sentiments regarding the contingent of NBA fans thirsting for live action when he states that “basketball [may be] relegated to only minor status here, [but] don’t underestimate the strength of the cult.”
The only question I have left after all this is, what the hell is a crumpet?!
You can reach Clint via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @Clintonite33
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